Smith leaves huge void in ABs midfield
Wed, 25 Jul 2012 5:33p.m.
Opinion By Jim Kayes
Conrad Smith’s eye injury is a massive blow to the All Blacks’ plans to have the new Four Nations won before they tackle the tough road trip to Argentina and South Africa.
Smith, 30, will miss at least the first two tests against Australia in Sydney then Auckland after undergoing two operations last week to his left eye to repair a detached retina.
It’s believed to be a similar injury to the one that sidelined former All Blacks prop Greg Somerville for two months in 2008 after he was out for about six week with a torn retina a year earlier.
Smith’s absence will hurt the All Blacks. It’s an already depleted midfield suffering through Sonny Bill Williams’ shift to Japan and then league.
It leaves only Ma’a Nonu as an established test midfielder, but he’s really a specialist second five. He’s played 66 tests and though he made his debut against England in Wellington in 2003 at centre, he’s featured there in only 11 tests.
Tamati Ellison was the midfield cover for the Ireland tests and has played at both No. 12 and 13 for the Highlanders while Dan Carter’s also a handy stop gap cover at second five. He made his test debut there, and has played there this year for the Crusaders.
Highlanders’ fullback Ben Smith has also played at centre and will be in the mix when the All Blacks look at how they cover the gaping hole Smith leaves.
Uncapped options include the Crusaders’ pair of Robbie Fruean and Ryan Crotty, or Tim Bateman at the Hurricanes.
But none are in the same league as Smith.
For a man many thought was too slow and slight to be a long term All Black, Smith is now firmly regarded as one of the first names to be written on the team sheet having played 58 tests.
He is a skilled organiser; almost impregnable on defence and has an uncanny ability to make breaks and beat defenders with his slightly ungainly gait.
He is, in short, a tremendous player.
The All Blacks have a tough road trip in September and October when they travel to Argentina to play the Pumas. Then, it’s on to South Africa to tackle South Africa a week later.
Coach Steve Hansen told me he hopes to have the Four Nations won by then.
They open with those back-to-back tests against Australia in August, then get a week off before playing Argentina in Wellington and South Africa in Dunedin on consecutive weekends.
It’s not known exactly how long Smith will be out for but it’s at least six weeks which rules him out of the first two tests and will have him on a tight schedule to be fit to play the Pumas in Wellington.
Hansen will desperately want him for the match against the Springboks in Dunedin.
Follow me on Twitter: @jimkayes
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26/07/2012 3:02:24 p.m.
Conrad is a loss no doubt but also an opportunity to try young and upcoming centers, like Fruean, now the perfect time for him what he is made of..Tamati Elison an other candidate I'd try. see what the thinktank makes of it but as I said, perfect time to get the youngens do a job.
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